The biblical book Esther made a significant impact upon Americans, Jews and non-Jews, as seen in the new book “Esther in America.”
As I described in detail in my book “Ruth, Esther, and Judith,” the biblical book Esther is in no way similar to what many think the book contains. Most noteworthy is that it contains no mention of God and no indication that the Judeans observed any biblical command. Even when the Judeans fasted when prompted by Esther’s request, no mention is made that they prayed for divine aid. The failure to state that the Jews in the Esther story observed the Torah bothered the Jewish community and many imaginative additions to the book were invented to supply the missing religious content, additions placed in another book, the Apocrypha. Yet, the biblical book Esther and the holiday Purim has prompted people of all religions to think about many significant things. The Scroll inspired and impacted the thinking and actions of America’s citizens. “Esther in America” is an excellent book containing seven sections of articles describing and analyzing the impact of Esther upon America.
These sections are: Esther in early America, Emancipation and proclamations, Feminist Esther, Diaspora life and dual identities, Pop culture Purim, Presidential politics and Purim, and The Megilla and modern morality. Each of the seven sections contains between two and seven articles by 26 scholars. The articles show, for example, that during the American Revolution, Americans saw Britain’s King George embodying the role of King Ahasuerus. Also, Esther’s heroic persona has a literary echo in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s depiction of Hester Prynne in his classic “The Scarlet Letter.”
These articles which focus on all aspects of American culture clearly show, as noted by Rabbi Dr. Stuart W. Halpern, the editor of this volume, that “Throughout our history, Americans have turned to the Scroll of Esther, the Megilla, as they navigated their liberties, morals, passions, and politics.”